By Tony Hooker
Madison Burwell is no stranger to success.
The first time we sat down for an interview, she was coming off a national championship in the trampoline. She was named to the USTA national team at the age of ten. Her sophomore year, she crushed three homers and had eight RBIs to lead the Blue Devils to a 15-5 sectional title over Salt Fork. Finally, this season, she elected to forego softball and concentrate on her first love, Track & Field. Specifically, on throwing the discus, and it’s apparent that her dedication has paid off because she earned a ninth-place finish at the state track meet, setting a school record in the process. I sat down with the recent VGHS graduate to talk about her athletic career, her future and much more.
It’s (her athletic career) all over. What do you think about that?
It’s all over. I’m tired. <smiles> It’s sad, but I’m excited to begin whatever comes next?
How many varsity letters did you earn in your career? Have you even thought about it?
No! <laughs> basketball, softball, volleyball, track and cheerleading my freshman year. I started basketball my sophomore year, Softball was freshman and sophomore year, track was freshman and senior year and volleyball was all four years.
This isn’t the first time I interviewed you. Do you remember that? Were you even in high school then?
That was for tumbling! <laughs> I don’t think so, because I only did tumbling for part of my freshman year.
You didn’t just participate in tumbling, you were a champion, right? You won national championships?
How much do you think that those years of participating in tumbling helped you in your other sports? Do you ever think about that?
Yes, I think about it a lot. I think it had almost everything to do with it. Not only building me muscle-wise, but also building my character. It led me to working hard at everything I do. My coaches taught me everything. I’ve been conditioned since I was six years old to work hard. I give it all to that.
Let’s look back at your career a little bit. Your sophomore year, you hit three bombs to win a sectional title in softball, then your junior year is wiped out by COVID-19. Your senior year, you go back to track and field and give up softball. What was your thought process on all of that?
I wanted to see what I could do. I was getting a little burned out on softball, and I was curious to see if I still had track in me. I’ve always loved track and field, but I could never participate in it because of softball, so for my senior year, I wanted to make my own decision and not let anyone else influence me.
You hadn’t participated in track and field since junior high?
Freshman year, I did both, but because of softball, I only went to one track meet.
Did you work at it even though you weren’t on the team?
No! <laughs> I didn’t work at it at all.
You don’t participate for three years and then you come out and set school records? That’s kind of amazing, right?
I guess. <smiles>
What do you attribute that to? Is it just a natural gift? Did you just crush it and do a lot of practicing this winter?
No, toward the end of volleyball season I started going out to the track with my brother. (Chase Burwell) He’s the one that taught me when I was younger. I was throwing about like I was throwing my freshman year, and I thought “I still got it!” but then I thought that if I was going to do track my senior year, I wanted to be good at it and I worked out a lot with my brother.
Did you work only on form or did you do strength training as well?
I did strength training and then he worked on my form with me. It got me like 30 more feet! <laughs>
I started lifting weights this year. I never lifted before this year.
Are you going to keep doing sports?
Nope. I’m retired. <smiles> I’m going to focus on my education now, and I’m totally happy with my choice.
A little slow pitch softball with your church someday? <smiles>
Yeah, or maybe intramurals at the U of I.
Are you going to UIUC?
I got accepted into the Parkland Pathway program.
I’ll have all the benefits of the U of I, but I’m sure you know that! <laughs>
I know a little. <both laugh> What program are you interested in at U of I?
Do you want to be a physical therapist or something in the medical field?
I’m interested in forensic pathology. I want to earn a certificate in that field.
Of all the sports you’ve participated in, what’s your favorite memory? You’ve been a national tumbling champion. You hit three home runs in a sectional championship game. You’ve recently finished in the top ten at state in track and field, setting school records along the way. What’s your favorite memory? Is it one of those or is it something else?
Can it be something from before high school?
It can be anything.
When I was in summer rec league, our team was called VG “Won”. W-o-n. For some reason, summer rec didn’t allow us to use names, we could only be VG 1 or VG 2, and my dad was the coach and he said “Fine, we’ll be VG “Won”. We were undefeated that season. We beat the Champaign Border girls that beat us every year in the championship game, and that’s my favorite sports memory. My favorite high school memory is my sophomore year, we beat Pal-Hut, who was undefeated and like the best ever volleyball team and we beat them. Those are my favorites, not the “big stuff” that you mentioned. Those were cool but the others were my forever moments.
If some little fourth grader walked up to you and said “Madison, I want to be just like you in high school, what would you tell her?
I would tell her to try out everything. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to stick with it, but if you do like it, do your best at it. In junior high, I didn’t even do volleyball or basketball, but when I got to high school I said “You know what, let’s try it.” In basketball I didn’t start. I was horrible. I didn’t know how to dribble. I still don’t know how to dribble! I say give everything a shot, and if you like it, go for it!
What’s Madison Burwell doing ten years from now?
Madison will be living in Champaign, probably. Hopefully I’ll be out of the house by then! <laughs> I’ll probably be working.
Do you have anything you want to add?
I would like to thank my mom. She drove me to five nights of tumbling in Lovington, and that’s what started it all.
What were your coaches’ names in tumbling?
Brian and Alissa Yoder. They’re the ones who got this thing started.